SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Really-Virtual, a veteran-owned technology company, has opened the door to boundless training possibilities for with their Real Forklift simulator, which offers highly immersive virtual environments for skilled labor training.

When owners, Veteran and CEO Mike Morgan and Co-founder Peter Chronopoulos saw the number of forklift-related injuries and deaths that have occurred, they decided to do something about it.

“We started to take a look at how are they actually training for forklift operation and it’s pretty outdated and antiquated,” Chronpoulous said. “You know, they watch an old video, a safety video that was probably made in the early or mid ’80s, maybe a PowerPoint presentation, and they literally get about 20 minutes of practice time, maybe in a parking lot or a section of the warehouse.”

Really Virtual Co-founder, Peter Chronopoulos.

He continued, “That really can’t prepare them for the intricacies and all of the safety issues that are in an actual warehouse. So, by incorporating virtual reality, you’re building muscle memory and preparing people for all the dangers of a warehouse that they really can’t train for in a traditional method.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there have been numerous serious injuries and deaths like last year when a forklift operator died after driving into an elevated pallet. This year a Tractor Supply employee died after he was attempting to move a gun safe with the forklift.

Forklifts are used for carrying and transporting heavy materials in primarily non-roadway areas. Currently, there are over 5,000 forklift operator job openings in the state of Georgia. Concerning improving the training and safety for future forklift operators so that they can fill these positions safely Morgan used General Electric Appliances as an example.

“Their primary requirements were to move appliances through the warehouse. They had a pretty complex training program that took me nine weeks to do. They incorporated our virtual reality solutions with some customization for them to do the training requirements and they were able to cut that training time down in half.”

Mike Morgan, CEO of Really Virtual.

In addition to that, they recently did some A/B testing with an automotive manufacturer which gave them an opportunity to put their existing program on as they normally do, but also place a number of individuals in the Really Virtual’s training on a real forklift. 

“They did a three-month training part and then they did a three month assessment when they were actually out in the workforce. They had a 3% incident rate with individuals that went through their existing training. We were happy to find out the people that went through the virtual reality training actually had an 0 incident rate. We don’t believe that that’s going to be the long standing trend but it gave them enough of an indicator to continue to expand the program,” said Morgan.

Bill Stankiewicz, Professor of Forklift Safety at Savannah Technical College said, “VR training was far more effective than traditional training methods like classroom education or self-paced online learning at creating an emotional bond to the content being taught and instilling the confidence that students or employees need in order to best perform their jobs. I see virtual reality is distancing itself from the emerging tech hype cycle and swiftly moving into mainstream adoption in many fields for equipment training.”

“What we’re seeing now is virtual reality is still in the hype cycle to some degree but when it comes to the enterprise training side, I think that it’s further along than the consumer side of things because it provides something that hasn’t been able to be solved up until this point and that’s providing a risk-free training environment that enables them to experience risks,” said Morgan.

Professor Bill Stankiewicz on the Real-Forklift Premium v1 simulator

“Coming from the military, we used to say, ‘Train as you fight, fight as you train.’, that is exactly the opposite of what happens in the corporate world.  Corporate training tends to be as risk adverse as possible, and then they put the person in high risks situations. So, virtual reality is on the cusp of being able to solve that problem.”

For organizations that are not using the program, Morgan suggests questioning whether or not they have the available equipment and resources to provide the type of training needed for students or employees to be competent in the job.

“Generally, that answer is no. Resources tend to be very limited to one trainer to one forklift, for example. Whereas in virtual reality, you can provide training for multiple people with one person overseeing that training program. We don’t believe that you’re going to replace physical equipment training with virtual reality. But what we do know, for a fact is, that we can provide training in virtual reality, that they are not able to do in a real-world scenario right now. So we don’t want to replace physical equipment training, but what we want to do is better prepare people with the muscle memory to be able to learn to deal with the risks that they will encounter when they do their job,” Morgan said.

Chronopoulos added, “It really helps, especially with beginners, people that really never operated heavy equipment, to get really comfortable before they get on the actual piece of equipment. There’s studies out there that show traditional learning methods like reading and watching videos. The knowledge retention is about 10 to 15%. So literally, they’re learning and it goes in one ear and out the other in the next couple of days. When you incorporate virtual reality and even augmented reality, the knowledge retention shoots up somewhere over 85 to almost 90%.”

Morgan and Chronopoulos hope to have a forklift micro-credentialing program that is sponsored by the state of Georgia with the hopes of making it mandatory for forklift operator students to get a forklift certification that includes virtual reality technology as part of the certification process.

Student’s using the Real-Forklift virtual simulator. (Photo provided by Chronopoulos)

Really-Virtual currently offers 3 forklift simulator versions:

The Real-Forklift Premium simulator that has a solid framed construction, forklift seat and seatbelt that can be easily moved into any classroom;

The Real-Forklift Mobile with an easy-to-pack solution that fits in a rollable transport case.  

The Real-Forklift Basic is a software solution that includes a Real-Forklift controller.